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Air travel and children

  • If your child has a health condition, check with your doctor before travelling.
  • Get your travel immunizations.
  • Always travel with a list of your child’s medical conditions with contact numbers in the event of an emergency.

With proper planning, you can help ensure a flight is a good experience for you and your child.

When is my child old enough to travel by airplane?

Airlines have different policies about age and air travel, so it’s best to check before you make plans.

Babies under 7 days of age should not fly. Cabin pressure in an airplane changes often, and a newborn baby’s system may have trouble adjusting. If your baby is younger than 7 days of age and must travel by air, talk to your doctor first.

Can my child travel by plane if she has a serious medical condition?

If your child has a health condition, check with your doctor before travelling. If your child is very ill, your doctor may recommend delaying the flight.

What if my child has a heart or lung problem?

Some medical conditions may require preflight testing and arrangements for extra oxygen. WestJet and Air Canada allow portable oxygen concentrators on domestic flights and international fights. Many U.S. airlines also allow you to carry portable oxygen concentrators. For specifics rules and requirements, contact your airline before you fly.

If your doctor says that your child is stable enough to fly with supplemental oxygen, you will have to make arrangements with the airline at least 24 hours before your flight. You will also have to arrange for oxygen in airports during any layovers.

If your child has a serious heart problem, make sure you travel with his most recent electrocardiogram (ECG). Children with pacemakers should travel with an ECG performed both with and without the pacemaker running. Most airport security devices should not affect cardiac pacemakers.

What if my child has diabetes?

  • Before flying, talk to your child’s doctor to review scheduling and dosing of insulin.
  • Contact the airline before your flight to check on carry-on policies for insulin and syringes. Some airlines will require a doctor’s note.
  • Make any special meal requests before your flight.
  • Bring your own snacks in case meals are delayed.
  • Know the symptoms of, and how to manage, low blood sugar.
  • Notify the flight attendants that your child has diabetes.
  • Your child should wear a MedicAlert accessory.

What should I do to prepare for the flight?

  • Rules about carry-on luggage change often. It’s always a good idea to contact your airline before your travel day to find out what you can carry on board.
  • Get your travel immunizations. The Public Health Agency of Canada has information on which vaccines you will need.
  • Children travelling abroad should also have proof of routine immunizations.
  • Always travel with a list of your child’s medical conditions with contact numbers in the event of an emergency.
  • Make sure you have all your child’s prescriptions before travelling. You may need letters from your doctor if your child has special health care needs or equipment. If you are unsure, check with the airline before you travel.
  • Explain what will happen when you travel so that your child knows what to expect and doesn’t feel afraid.

How do I keep my child safe during the flight?

  • Children under 2 years old who do not have their own seat must be held securely in a parent’s lap during takeoff and landing. Your flight attendant will show you exactly how this should be done.
  • Do not use a sling or front infant carrier to hold your baby on an airplane.
  • Parents who buy a ticket for their baby can bring their own child safety seat. It must have been bought in Canada and have a national safety label that indicates it is certified for use on an aircraft.
  • Your child should sit away from the aisle to protect her from injuries that can be caused by service trolleys, passengers walking in aisles, and hot meals or liquids being passed over the aisle seat.
  • Your child should stay in her seat, with the seatbelt fastened, during the flight.
  • Always go with your child to the on-board washroom.

Will my baby’s ears hurt during the flight?

Changes in cabin pressure can be painful, especially for younger children with smaller eustachian tubes (a tube in the ear that helps even out pressure).

  • For babies, breastfeeding, or sucking from a bottle or on a soother may offer some relief, especially during takeoff and landing.
  • For older children, chewing gum may help.
  • If your child’s ‘blocked ears’ are bothering him, show her how to breathe out with his lips and nose blocked tightly.
  • It’s best if your child doesn’t fly within 2 weeks of having an ear infection.

Can I bring bottles and food for my baby?

Formula, breast milk, juice and baby food are allowed in carry-on baggage. They must be stored in small containers. It’s also a good idea to use an ice pack to help keep them cool since airlines don’t usually provide refrigeration.

What should I do if my child has food allergies or special dietary needs?

Many airlines can accommodate specific dietary needs if you let them know in advance. If you are concerned that the airline food will not be safe for your child, bring your own food on the plane. Many airlines no longer offer peanuts as snacks. However, other passengers can bring them on board.

  • If your child has a food allergy, she should carry an adrenaline kit (eg, EpiPen and antihistamines, and wear a MedicAlert accessory at all times.
  • You may need a note from your doctor to carry an EpiPen onboard. Check with the airline in advance.
  • If your child has a severe peanut allergy, you should alert the airline and a flight attendant.
  • If you think your child is having an allergic reaction during the flight, notify the flight attendant and administer the EpiPen as you were shown by your doctor.

What can I do if my child gets motion sickness?

Some children are more sensitive to motion sickness than others. If your child has had motion sickness before and is older than 2 years of age, you can try giving her an over-the-counter anti-nausea medication 30 to 60 minutes before departure. The side effects usually include drowsiness and dry mouth.

What if my child gets diarrhea?

Diarrhea is usually caused by a virus or bacteria. In rare cases, it can be caused by something you eat on the plane. Travellers’ diarrhea is a common illness in travellers.

To stop the spread of germs, wash your hands often and carry a hand sanitizer when travelling.

  • Diarrhea drains water and salts from your child, and if they are not put back quickly, your child can become dehydrated. Parents of young children should travel with an oral rehydration solution. An ORS can be made by mixing packets of oral rehydration salts with water or by following the recipe:

Age AmountChildren under 2 years50–100 mL (¼ to ½ cup) after each loose stool, up to approximately 0.5L (2 cups) a day.Children 2 to 9 years100–200 mL (½ to 1 cup) after each loose stool movement, up to approximately 1L (4¼ cups) a day.

Source: Public Health Agency of Canada

  • If your child is breastfeeding and has diarrhea, continue to offer breast milk.
  • Over-the-counter medications to stop diarrhea aren’t recommended for babies.
  • If your child is having diarrhea, ask the flight attendant for water to help keep your child hydrated during the flight.

Will my child behave differently during or after air travel?

  • Children can have trouble settling during a flight. Books, toys, crayons, music and snacks will help keep her distracted.
  • Do not use medications to sedate your child. They could put your child at risk for breathing problems.
  • Crossing time zones and being at high altitudes can disturb a child’s sleep after air travel. Things should be back to normal within a few days.

Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Community Paediatrics Committee

Last Updated: November 2012